On the stage during a Whitby theatre production, students in Grades 5 and 6 play central roles alongside their older classmates. Fellow students have created the set, and the scene is one of competence and confidence.
Whitby uses a transdisciplinary model of teaching, reaching across the curriculum to incorporate the concepts the students are studying in English literature, humanities, music and art. The school’s mission is to inspire a passion for learning and to empower each child to take responsibility as an open-minded, principled citizen in a global community. With this mission in mind, Whitby’s cocurricular pro- gram provides choice-based offerings that complement the educational continuum, preparing each child for the world ahead and developing lifelong learners.
Among the cocurricular offerings is Whitby’s musical theatre program, which has grown by leaps and bounds since 2012. Credit for this growth goes to Theatre teacher and Director Allyn Rathus, who added Arts Curriculum Coordinator to her title for the new school year. Rathus carefully chooses productions that align with concepts being studied across the curriculum, and forms a strong, connected collaboration with music and art. Last spring under Rathus’ direction, thirty plus students presented an innovative, modernized version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
“I waited for the right time, the right school, and the right group of students to bring [Romeo and Juliet] to life. I waited for a com- munity unafraid to approach the fear, chaos, and love so often associated with change. And I waited for moments in the state of our union and the state of the world during which hope and change could be characterized as a chain linking many young people together.” says Rathus.
Rathus collaborated with children outside of the theatre program to help shape the overall production. Middle school students designed and produced sets and props to complement the theatrical performances. Upper School Art Teacher Amy Bilden started off the academic year teaching students about guerilla art, a type of street art created by artists who are motivated by a desire for change. Keeping these les- sons in mind, student artists “bombed” the surface of the backdrop with tags and art, referencing the violence and turmoil within the play’s plot.
With the help of Whitby’s music department and chorus class, songs from artists such as Queen and Green Day were worked into a contemporary soundtrack to give students stronger, relative ties to Shakespeare. Rathus also found opportunities to cast females in male roles and vice versa, sometimes casting multiple people for a common role in an effort to broaden student perspectives on the piece as a whole.
“I loved watching the empathy that my cast showed their characters and each other. They were very aware of the relationships that exist between the play’s characters and they used the weight of these relationships to bond with each other,” reflects Rathus.
The ability to realize and empathize with different perspectives is the result of developing students in varied circumstances. Whitby is made up of students from 40 different countries with backgrounds in more than 30 languages, a setting that helps children to see the world through a multitude of perspectives throughout their educational journey. The hands-on, integrated curriculum that students experience at Whitby better prepares students to be open-minded, caring and balanced individuals who will positively impact the lives of others in the future.